How to run longer distances
We start to run longer distances without ever running them before. The first time we run five miles is the first time we’ll run five miles; the first time we run 20 miles will be the first time we run 20 miles. When we start to run we constantly find ourselves in uncharted waters. So, how do we run longer distances without ever running them before?
For many reasons, running is a different sport. Unlike some sports, like baseball in which we’ve swung a bat since or cycling in which we’ve ridden bicycles, we haven’t partaken in them since we were little. While we train, or run for leisure, for a marathon, we’ve probably never run 20 miles in our lives.
In fact, I’d say most people have never run more than 20 miles at a single go when they run their first marathon. As one person asked me, “Do you mean that you never run more than 20 miles in training and then run 26.2 miles all willy-nilly?” Yes, I suppose we run the extra 10K all willy-nilly.
There totally are a few tricks, hints, and techniques for the first time that we ever run a certain distance. Part of it is a proper training plan, part of it is mindset, part of it is pure physical determination, and part of it is proper diet and rest. Runners are extremely methodical people who believe in planning and execution. For veterans, it comes naturally. For novices, it takes some knowledge and experience.
Listen to your body
I believe that running should have more guidelines than rules because our bodies are all different. What works for one person may not work for another. But I nearly always say that the most important rules in training is listen to your body.
Listening to your body is, unfortunately, something we learn by experience but as we progress it becomes second nature.
It’s about gut feeling: we learn how our body feels on a particular day. Maybe we didn’t eat enough, drink enough, or get enough rest. Maybe we drank too much. Or maybe our run is taking too much out of run and should slow down or turn around. The point of this is to know what we can do on a particular day. It’s hard because the more we do the faster we become, but also the more likely to sustain an injury
Learn to run longer distances by learning to train well. Don’t get ahead of yourself and learn what you can do. Learn what training load you can handle without running too many miles and burn out or become injured.
Think of the purpose of each run. Training for races is strategic. We might feel really good today but are supposed to run a long run tomorrow. But running longer today may then affect tomorrow’s long run. Consistency is key!
Most running plans have us run 4 or 5 days per week (usually in 3 and 2 days in a row or 2 and 2 splits). It’s important at the beginning of the week to not burn ourselves out by the middle of the week, or else we’re missing runs or shortening them. Both are counterintuitive. Regardless of what we’re training for, the single most important run is the long run.
As we train to run longer distances to run faster and meet our achievements, we will stretch ourselves to reach we heights. But that is a good thing! Our body grows stronger and faster the more we push it. Through proper training and execution we will make our goals.
Mental strength is our friend
Endurance sports feature some of the most mentally strong people. Many of us don’t take breaks during our runs, swims, or rides: the switch is always set to on. Some of the most grueling training is simple the monotony of the mundane. At first we get excited about running 6 miles at a time several times per week, but then that distance becomes ordinary like we’re just going through the motions.
Developing prodigious mental strength through our training helps us during are A-races because it’s practice. Use training not only as a way to run long and faster distances but as situational practices. On race day we know we’ll succeed because we were there during our training. We pushed through the last few miles on long runs because we stayed with it.
If you like reading, this book is a great motivator because developing better mental strength. Whereas some athletes play in a sport that only lasts 4-6 seconds at a time, some of our sports last 4-6 hours at a time. Learn to get good with going out on 3 hour runs and it won’t be so daunting when we leave our house.
Rest and fueling your long runs
Outside of literally running the most important physical aspects of running are rest and fuel (I will use fuel as an umbrella term for what we consume, both for what we eat and drink). If we don’t take care of our bodies by what we eat and drink and how much rest we get, we won’t have the energy or wherewithal to continue our training.
Rest refers to both the amount of sleep we get and taking the proper amount of days off running to let our bodies heal. It is undeniable that sleep is one of the most elementary steps to take to becoming healthier. Sleeping helps to run longer distances to heal your legs, regulate your digestive system, and elevate your mood.
The more deep we get into training, running in the dogs days of summer, and tapering for our goal race, the more important sleep is to keep us on schedule.
Rest day are fitness training! I have been there too often that I get obsessed with running as many miles, as many times (yeah, doubles) as possible. It works exceedingly well, until it doesn’t.
Taking a rest day (not to be confusing with recovery days, which include short, easy runs) a time or two per week heals our body and lets us sleep more if we get up super early to run. If we run without taking any days off, we don’t let our bodies heal, which actually makes us faster and stronger with the healer and recovered muscles. (This is not dissimilar from lifting weights and them becoming stronger afterward.)
Although proper rest is vital to our running careers, taking too rest days can put too many miles on fewer runs. Spreading out the miles on more days helps avoid injuries because you’re trying to put, say, 40 miles in 5 runs instead of 40 miles in 4 runs. The lower the percentage of miles in one run of the course of the week the less stress of any particular run.
Garbage in garbage out. Running does not give anyone an get out of jail free card to eat whatever we want. For as much as I’d like to say it, we have to keep tabs on our diets to properly fuel our running lifestyle. When we cross over to endurance sports, we cross over into a lifestyle hobby that certainly includes what we eat and drink.
It’s important to view eating as what purpose does this serve? Depending on our level of running, we might look at “macros”, or we might entire micromanage our entire palate of food.
The right mindset
I find the long runs to be the easiest run of the get to “get up for”. I find them the most purposeful and important, and honestly running for a long time is what I live for.
Long runs can take 3 hours to complete (including bathroom breaks, traffic stops, energy gel consumption, etc.). The mindset of going out on them is that we’ll be out there for a while running, and that we’ll do what we have to do to complete them. Unlike some other runs that may be more of an obligation on a Tuesday, heading out for a weekend long run often is more engaging.
Doing what we have to do is often all is takes to run longer distances. My running week revolve around mental obsessing over the long run. So much, sometimes I would think it’d be unhealthy if not for the absolute necessity of nailing our long runs on the weekend.
The long runs set up the rest of our training from a perspective of both helping us traverse the 26.2 mile distance but also making the rest of the runs comparatively easy. Run 10 miles and 5 miles is short; run 20 miles and 10 miles is half that.
Believe that you can run long distance than what you’ve ever run! Have confidence in your training, in your process, and in yourself. Don’t stop, keep moving. I believe that many people who don’t move up in distance don’t because they don’t believe they can. If you believe, you’re already halfway there — you only have to execute. Don’t give up on yourself!
Run with a group
If available, look into running with a group. Other people give us motivation, gives us something to pass on the time, makes us “rise up to the occasion” more easily, and may create lifelong relationships.
Some people don’t need an ounce of external motivation: 100% of their willpower comes from within regardless of what happens to them or anything says. Those people seem to have superhuman level of unfaltering focus. For most of us, getting out and being a little bit social help us to push our training forward.
Live in an area with running groups? Chances are we can locate a marathon (or whatever race we’re training for) training group that offers group long runs on the weekend. Running with other people can give us that oomph we sometimes need to get across the finishing line.
Running transcends a one-time event or goal: it creates lifelong friendships. Many people who started to casually meet other runners have kindled relationships that last for years and often become best friends. Affinity groups superbly connect people who have common goals and aspirations.